One in five trade unionists works in the education sector

One of the advantages of the DfE moving its statistical output to the central government web site is that it allows those looking for data about education to browse much more easily a much wider field than before. Now there is no longer any need to consult a range of web sites in the hope that there might be some data about education buried there.

Thus it was that I discovered in the figures on Trade Union membership issued earlier today that the education sector is now the most unionised of any occupational group covered by the government’s classification system. Those who want to delve into the data can find it at

Trade Union membership in the education sector includes not only teachers but also all other staff classified as working in the sector. In 2012, the education sector employed 11.7% of those covered by the survey, but accounted for 23.8% of trade union membership.

Across the education sector, although the percentage of employees in trade unions has declined from 55% in 1995 to 52% in 2012, the percentage of women in the sector in trade unions increased from 50.5% to 52.6% during the same period; the only sector to record an increase in female participation in trade unions during the whole period. This was a time in history when overall membership of trade unions declined, from 32.4% to 26% of workers, and more than halved in the financial and insurance activities sector, from 37.3% in 1995 to 15.9% in 2012.

In the education sector there were just over 1,000,000 trade union members in 1995; by 2012, membership numbers had increased to more than 1.5 million, no doubt partly due to the increase in teaching assistants and other support staff employed in the sector during the past decade. Union membership is strongest amongst full-time, and female workers, and those with permanent posts, although the education sector has the second highest degree of union membership among part-time workers.

England has the lowest percentage trade union membership in the education sector, at 50.3%; compared with 58.8% in Wales; 61.1% in Scotland; and 68.1% in Northern Ireland. Sadly, there is no table to show whether the present Secretary of State in England has inspired an increase in membership across England since 2010. However, there are regional differences across England, with Yorkshire and the Humber having the highest level of membership at 62.4% overall, including more than 69% of full-time staff, and the South East the lowest, at 44.7%. Apart from London, where the percentage membership is 50.7%, membership percentages are higher in the northern regions and lower in the midlands and south of England.

In England, at least among teachers, there will be a big test for trade unions this year with the introduction of what amounts to pay bargaining at a local level for the first time in almost a hundred years for many teachers. Whether it is largely ignored by schools who stick to national ‘guidelines’ or becomes a real bone of contention will become apparent over the next twelve months.

What is clear is that the public sector unions, and those representing workers at all levels in the education sector, now account for a significant proportion of trade unionists. At an earlier piece on this blog showed, a survey last year didn’t always find the teacher members as in favour of action as their leaders.

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